Why and when did you take up music? Did you and do you still play in any other bands?
I learnt music from a young age, starting with piano (and adding trumpet, then viola). I wasn't a great student – I'd be at the piano for hours but, rather than practising, I'd 'doodle', exploring the keyboard, discovering which notes worked together. These were the first steps into writing my own music, when I began developing as a composer but, looking back, the downside is that I could have become a much better pianist, technically, than I am. I was also a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral...I guess my childhood was steeped in music.
When I was about 11, I remember my older brother bringing home a Genesis LP - “A Trick of the Tail' – which was the start of a love affair with the band and with the prog genre (Camel, Yes, The Enid, Supertramp etc). My brothers and I formed a 'school' prog band – I still have a couple of very ropey recordings! Then, coinciding with Genesis' reinvention as a MOR band, I started to explore other genres – jazz (Pat Metheny), ambient (Ian Lynn, Mark Isham), 'alternative' rock/pop (The Blue Nile, Bjork, EBTG), film composition (Dave Grusin, Ennio Morricone) – and to record my own music using a 4-track cassette recorder (now an antique!). The need to earn some money then took priority but I didn't abandon music altogether, co-composing the musical 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', which has been performed in Birmingham schools, and continuing to write piano music.
How did the idea of recording an album come about and where did you record it?
It started with the move to Scotland – the inspirational landscape begs to be set to music, I couldn't keep away from my keyboard, and the idea of an album took shape. I spent some time bringing myself up to speed with home recording and I was ready to go... Once recording and mixing were complete, the final wavs were whisked away to Barry Gardner at SafeAndSound for mastering.
The end result is the Water Is Wide Variations album from last year. Please tell us more about this album.
I'm not really sure why, but I got fixed on the idea of 'variations on a theme'. I knew the traditional Celtic theme, 'The Water is Wide' – it's a pleasant old tune with a simple melody which lends itself to being embellished, adapted, arranged and, generally messed about. In addition, the pieces are each inspired by events, people and the landscapes of Argyll and the Hebrides, with topics ranging from a crashed fighter jet to a close encounter with a seal!
For those of us unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe it?
I described the album as being a 'soundtrack' inspired by Argyll – it has a soundtrack feel to me. My prog roots show throughout the album, a couple of the tracks are distinctly classical, 'Far Away Remembered” has an oriental back-story with a musical feel to match, and the 15-minute final track, 'Stars', was described by Classic Rock Presents Prog as “blissed-out”. The pieces are interlinked, sometimes overlapping, to form a cohesive, immersive experience (a persuasive argument for going with the CD rather than downloads, incidentally).
Your album is tapping into this Celtic scene segment, I guess. How have sales of the album gone and what is your main market, both music scene, demographic and geographic?
The music scene in Argyll is dominated by traditional Celtic folk, which this album isn't. On the other hand, local sales have been pretty good due, I guess, to the subject matter. Online, the biggest market is UK, followed by North America, then Europe. I've promoted the album primarily in prog circles (most prog fans don't just hear music, they appreciate it at a deeper level) and, thanks also to some really positive reviews, this is where the majority of sales have come.
Where do you and this album fit into the Scottish music scene?
That's a tough one. I haven't gigged (the album is multi-layered and therefore tough to perform live effectively) so I can't say what the response would be, especially as the local scene is so dominated by traditional Celtic music.
I know your area pretty well myself as an eager bike-rider. I passed through your village on a long bike ride two years ago. Your area has a several thousands old history and was the first known kingdom of Scotland if I am not mistaken. Landscape-wise, a very weird area. How has the area influenced you and your music?
You're right about the landscape – it brings out the photographer in me, as well as the musician (and some of the results can be seen in the beautifully produced 12-page CD booklet folks!). There's everything here - hills, moors, forests, ocean, prehistoric sites – so inspiration is not hard to come by.
What have you been up to since releasing this album and what are your plans for the future?
I'm already writing for the next album. I now have a semi-purpose-built studio so it's all systems go! And I might be collaborating with local musicians – Archie McAllister, a fine fiddle player who is world-famous in Argyll(!), heard 'The Water is Wide Variations' and is interested in recording his next album with me. I'm also looking into ways I can perform the album live, possibly as something of a multimedia experience...who knows.
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add?
thorough, Torodd! Just to add that a visit to alfleeman.com will
give you more of a flavour of the music and the area – please stop
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